Working adaptations

You don’t have to smile all the time on a video conference. Maintaining ‘interested-engaged-face’ is exhausting. Tell people it is OK not to smile, and OK to turn their video off for a few minutes. Spending a whole day bouncing from one video meeting to the next is exhausting.

A little yoga helps with tight hips and legs, especially pigeon pose and downward dog. Mid-morning workout breaks are a mood-booster, if nothing else for the smug feeling of not having to workout after work. I have to make myself get up, stretch, pace, and walk during the day, where in the office I spent a lot of time walking between meetings and to talk to people.

It is a rare meeting that is without a visiting cat, dog, child, or spouse. That’s absolutely fine too!

Commute time has turned into ‘purring cat wanting to show how cute she is so she gets fed’ time. It’s an improvement but I really miss my highway driving time and singing in the car. Singing in the car in the garage isn’t the same, and the neighbours can hear me.

Karate lessons and group class is happening over Zoom, and it’s working, I’m learning Long 4 kata, which is new to me. Sworkit is making me get regular workouts in also.

My sewing machine, a 1914 Singer model 28k (‘k’ means it was made in Clydesdale, Scotland, obviously) with a turn handle, still works. So far I’ve made a face mask for a friend and a lined drawstring bag for me, which is more sewing than I did in the previous decade and a half, or possibly ever.

Books to re-read

I was that child in school who read the encyclopaedia, cover to cover, Aardvark to Zulu. I got six books a week from Ipswich Library every Saturday while my parents did the grocery shopping, I read my way through the children’s library and branched out to adult science fiction before I left for university. This site has over a decade of reading logs and there’s been a definite shift towards management and leadership books in the last two years that coincides with a job title change to director. I am always studying.

There are some books that have earned the status of "books I want to re-read regularly." It’s a short list.

Colin Urquhart "My Dear Child"

This book is by an English author, I found it when I was first dealing with clinical depression, and it is a reassuring read. When I can’t see how God could exist, this book tells me that he does, and he cares.

Chris Baty "No Plot? No Problem!"

I love this book. It’s encouraging and funny and everything I love about National Novel Writing Month in book form.

James Martin, SJ "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life"

I’m not a Catholic, but this book feels like it was written for me. It is comforting and challenging at the same time, but not condescending or guilt-inducing. A friend at work recommended it and I’m thankful she did.

Todd Henry "The Accidental Creative"

I never thought of my job as a traditionally creative one, but I make my living by thinking and solving problems. I spend a lot of time in my head at work, and this book has lots of practical suggestions for using my mind and my time in better, more productive ways.

Marcus Aurelius "Meditations"

Reading this book feels like I am reading the source material for several other books I’ve read. This translation feels like a collection of sentence fragments in places, but there’s a lot of good advice in here.

Stephen M. R. Covey "The Speed of Trust"

Trust is important to me, I want to be trusted and I want my trust to not be broken by others. This book explains a lot about why trust is important, and how to build trust.

Robert Sutton "The No Asshole Rule"

I’ve loaned my copy out to someone, but this is a fantastic "how not to be an asshole" manual. The comments from readers of this book became Sutton’s "Good Boss, Bad Boss," another good read.

Manager-speak

  • Great idea, how can I help you do that?
  • What do you want to set as your goals?
  • Are you happy?
  • Do you need anything, that I can legally provide within the bounds of this company?
  • You did an awesome job with X! I really liked how you Y and Z.
  • Fly! Be free! (at the end of a meeting, preferably one that finished early)
  • How can I improve in my role?

    Agile Transformation

    My employer lets take one day a year as a "Day of Caring" to be used at a non-profit organization of our choosing. I did mine with an associate pastor of Life Community Church in Columbia IL. I’ve spent two and a half years immersed in Agile software projects, and the way we manage teams is different to anywhere else I’ve worked. We spent the day doing an Agile Transformation bootcamp on these subjects:

    • Incremental improvement
    • Experiments and the scientific method
    • Big visible metrics
    • Kanban and acceptance criteria
    • Brainstorming and dot voting
    • Time-boxing
    • Meeting agendas
    • Stand-up status meetings
    • Retrospectives and feedback
    • Office layout

    The goal was to improve visibility into who is doing what, put in some lightweight structure around projects, and make sure important stuff got done. We did a brainstorming exercise, a demo of Kanban using Trello, some ways to make meetings short and useful, and a lot of time management and project management lessons.

    My plan is to return around February and continue the Agile transformation. It’s cool to see the tools and methods I’ve been taking for granted applied in a completely different setting, but still be amazingly useful.

    Notebooks

    I work in a software company, but I couldn’t do my work without paper notebooks. I’m running several at once:

    Five Year Diary

    A gift from Paul six years ago and again last Christmas, this book from Levenger gives me five lines a day, for five years. It’s eerie to read back several years and remember what I was writing about, I’m about to finish year #1 of volume #2. I love the short snapshot format. I write this first thing in the morning for the preceding day, while I’m sitting in front of my light-box.

    Gratitude Journal

    I started this in August 2013, but made it a daily practice on September 1st, 2015. Only good things go in here, it is my second morning journal. I read some of Janice Kaplan’s book The Gratitude Diaries, and I liked her ideas. This feels like a good exercise to remind myself of good things when I can’t currently see good in my world. This is a Rhodia Webnotebook in a (now discontinued) Saddleback Leather cover.

    Sketchbook

    After the five year diary and the gratitude journal, I do some sketching in a Strathmore wire-bound sketchbook until I fill up a page. 28 days straight as of December 20th. There’s some progression in my doodles and I’m finding I want to draw things from sight, not by memory, so I’m staging a few objects there, including a small model of a person, a wooden bead, and a piece of driftwood from my parents.

    Diary

    This is the all-purpose book I carry around with me, I leave 3 pages blank in the front for an index and hand-number the odd pages. When it’s full, I put a full index into Indxd and make a written index of highlights in those first three pages. It holds song lyrics, quotes, diary entries, musings, answers to questions, notes from talks I attend, notes on books I’m reading, sermon notes, this is my catch-all. It’s another Rhodia Webnotebook in a Gfeller cover periodically treated with One Star Leather balm, which has saved it from a leaky water bottle.

    Work notebook

    My daily companion at work, this travels with me in a waxed canvas clutch. Meeting notes, status updates, doodles during meetings, lists, all the work-related note-taking lives here. I use a Clairfontaine 1951 notebook in a custom leather cover from Graham Keegan. I’m on the third one of these and I managed to put this one into the holder upside down. I’ll need a new notebook soon because it’s well over half full.

    Task list and Mood Log

    I use a Word notebook for task lists with personal tasks in the front and work tasks in the back. Twice a day, at lunchtime and around 5pm, I put a mood rating in a second Word notebook, from 1 (hideously awful) to 10 (best day ever). I average over the week and keep an eye on the week-to-week trend. Walking into your annual check-up with metrics gets a doctor’s attention. These two travel with me in a Nock Hightower case.

    End of day notebook

    This is new, an experiment from Shawn Blanc’s Elements of Focus course, which is a free video course with small assignments. One assignment is to leave myself a note with what thing I should do first tomorrow, another assignment is to list what I accomplished today, and two things I’m grateful for. It’s going to be interesting to compare the gratefulnesses with the gratitude journal over time. This is a 3×5 Calepino notebook.

    Handbag notebook

    This is another Calepino notebook in a One Star Leather cover that lives in my handbag. It’s for out and about notes, things I think of while driving, songs I want to buy when I get home. I don’t write in it while I’m driving, but I have pulled off the road into a store car park to jot something down.

    Nine notebooks, and all of them have their own purpose, I didn’t realise it was that many. I have a preference for the Rhodia and Clairfontaine papers because they can handle a fountain pen. I’ve already filled a Mood Log, a Task List, a Handbag Notebook, two volumes of Diary, and two Work notebooks this year.

    Résumé do’s and don’ts

    (Written for a friend who was teaching a class of young people.)

    Do be selective. You don’t have to list every job you’ve ever had. Highlight the relevant ones, and highlight specific things you learned or did at those jobs.

    The purpose of a résumé is to get you an interview, not tell me your life story.

    Never send a ten page résumé, or a seven page one, or even a five page one. If you can’t prioritise what to put on a résumé, you’re showing that you don’t have that skill, which is really useful in many jobs.

    No-one should need any more than three pages at the very longest for someone with decades of experience. Don’t make your résumé a wall of text, give me enough to get my attention and move on. Hit the highlights and the most relevant experience.

    If you’re applying to be an X, make sure your résumé mentions being an X, or training as an X, or research into being an X. Never apply for a job as an X and send a résumé telling me you’re a Y.

    Read the résumé out loud before you send it. When you read it aloud, odd sentence structure or awkward wording is a lot more obvious. Have someone else read it to you.

    Don’t refer to yourself in the third person, it’s weird (“Mary is a creative and visionary professional”). It looks weird, it sounds weird, you wouldn’t speak like that.

    Never put it on your résumé if you’re not prepared to talk about it in detail. I leave JavaScript off mine, because I can hack my way through with Google and Stack Overflow, but I’m no expert and I don’t want to get grilled on it. If it is on the résumé, it’s fair game for me asking you questions about it.

    Don’t inflate your skills. If you say you’re an expert at X but you can’t answer basic questions about X, then that makes me wonder what else is untrue on your résumé. Don’t lie, exaggerate, or make stuff up.

    There should not be ANY typos, spelling errors, or grammatical errors in your résumé. Print it out and red pen it. Then get someone else to red pen it.

    Stick with basic fonts: Times, Georgia, Ariel, Helvetica. Stay away from Comic Sans and Papyrus. Don’t use clip art, or colours. If your résumé gets printed, it’ll almost always be on a black and white laser printer, colours make it pale and harder to read.

    Make sure your contact details on the résumé are correct, it’s the only way to get hold of you. If you set up a separate email address for the résumé, check it multiple times a day.

    Don’t belittle your past employers on your résumé. We know you want to leave, but bad-mouthing them on paper makes me wonder what you’ll say about my company later.

    If you have gaps in your employment history, be prepared to explain why.

    If you’re applying for an entry level job, research what the skills are for someone in that job, and showcase those in your résumé. Even if you don’t have the experience, it shows you did the research and know what you’re looking for.

    Nonfiction reading

    Starting November 2013, I’ve been reading more books from the business, management, leadership, and creativity sections of the book store. By a wild coincidence, I took on more leadership-ish things at work around then. These are ones I’ve finished so far:

    Jurgen Appelo "Management 3.0"

    Laurie Helgoe "Introvert Power"

    Sheryl Sandberg "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead"

    Robert Sutton "The No Asshole Rule"

    Robert Sutton "Good Boss, Bad Boss"

    Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons "The Invisible Gorilla"

    Steven Pressfield "The War of Art"

    George J Thompson and Jerry B Jenkins "Verbal Judo: the gentle art of persuasion"

    Jim Collins "Good to Great"

    Sunni Brown "The Doodle Revolution"

    Patrick Lencioni "The Advantage"

    Currently in progress are "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry, Jean Greaves, and Patrick M. Lencioni, and "The Speed of Trust" by Stephen M. R. Covey. Next up are "The Art Of War For Women" by Chin-Ning Chu and "Scaling Up Excellence" by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. Some are recommendations, some are my own finds. Most have been useful, some more than others. I didn’t like "Lean In" one bit.

    I’m trying to alternate business books with fiction. Too much nonfiction makes me cranky, the last time I surfaced from a nonfiction binge I tore through a bunch of Dresden Files books and didn’t touch nonfiction for a while. Having ten years of book reading history is fascinating.

    Travel lessons

    Airplane travel

    Some day, you and your checked luggage will be parted. Maybe for a day, maybe forever. Have enough in carry-on that you can survive a day while you get replacements for the essentials.

    Medications go in carry-on bags.

    If you fly more than twice a year, do the TSA Pre-Check and get a Known Traveller Number. You can keep your liquids in your bag and use the short line for screening, and it lasts for five years.

    Driving for business

    Classical music is not your friend. Find something with a beat that you can sing along to, especially if you’re driving multiple hours.

    Drink lots of water and take stops every hour. The one may facilitate the other.

    Don’t be the fastest thing on the road.

    Chocolate left in your car all day will probably melt, especially in summer.

    Bring one book, not three.

    General travel

    When you’re in a new city, ask people for recommendations of places to go and places to eat. Then take the recommendations. This got me to Askinosie a fantastic chocolate factory in Springfield MO, and Farmer’s Gastropub, which is the closest thing to a British pub I’ve found in America.

    Explore on your own.

    Take the time to introvert and be alone.

    Back to back travel is best avoided. You need a break in between trips.

    Coming home is the best part of travelling.

    How to have a meeting that doesn’t suck

    Have a defined end-point for the meeting, and get there as soon as you can.

    Take your own notes, by hand, on paper. You’ll notice what’s relevant to you and the act of writing helps you recall it.

    Allow audience participation, it’s not a lecture or a class, it’s about collaboration. Someone else knows information that’s relevant and they can’t speak if you never leave space for other people’s words.

    Count at least seven seconds of silence when you ask a question. People start squirming at that much dead air and someone will fill it. Some people can tolerate more silence than others, watch for them and ask them questions directly.

    If your meeting room is a fridge, people are too busy being cold to pay attention to what you say, and they probably hate you for keeping on talking.

    Multiple-hour info-dump meetings will be forgotten by morning. Multiple-hour meetings that are also cold will be remembered only as cold and too long.

    Humans need regular bio breaks. Having to ask to be taken to the rest room as an adult, because you require a security badge to get back in and you’re not handing those out to visitors, is humiliating. Don’t be that company. If you can’t get around the badge issue, schedule a break every couple of hours and get people up and moving.

    If it’s a meeting where people can phone in, make sure they can hear you over the phone. Repeat questions before answering them, and speak clearly and more loudly than usual.

    For a video conference, have a dry run of the technology the day before to make sure everything is working OK. Do not make your meeting the first time you turn the video camera on.

    If there’s any way possible you can get everyone in the same room, do that.

    Candidates, things your interviewers want you to know

    (This is close to my heart because I’ve done a bunch of interviews lately, some good, some not so good.)

    If a skill or qualification is on your resume, I will ask you about it, especially if it’s one I also have. Claim to know C# and I’ll ask you C# questions. Claim to know Java and I have a set of Java questions ready to roll. If you say you’re an ISTQB certified tester but don’t know their core testing principles from the syllabus, that’s a problem.

    Never lie to me. If you didn’t do your pre-interview essay questions yourself, it will be obvious when I talk to you. I’d rather you said "I don’t know how to do that, but here’s how I might try." Even if you’re on the wrong track, a valiant attempt is far better than a copied answer.

    Never ever give me someone else’s answers. Seriously. I can’t believe I have to say this. Things you found on the internet, copied in wholesale, and tried to pass off as your own leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    Have some questions to ask me. Because your questions to me are also part of how I assess you. If you ask about the vacation policy, required working hours, and working from home in the interview, those questions worry me.

    Don’t have sections copied and pasted from elsewhere on your resume. Why bother telling me the same stuff twice or four times? Don’t waste space and don’t waste my time.

    It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Brainstorm with me, think out loud, if I draw on the whiteboard and hand you a marker, use it. Bad art skills are never a disqualifier for software quality jobs.

    Have examples to common questions ready, because I’ll ask you for specifics.

    Smile. Even if you’re nervous, fake it if you have to.

    Don’t bad-mouth your past or current employers. Even if they’re horrible, find a way to say it that doesn’t involve saying awful things about them. We already know there’s some reason you want to work elsewhere.

    You’re interviewing us too, and this job may not be a good fit for you. Better to find that out now than take the job and hate it.

    Have a reason for why this job at this company. If you don’t want to be here, I find it odd that you’d go to the trouble of interviewing.

    If it’s a phone interview, make sure you answer the phone when I call. If the line is engaged or I end up in voicemail, that doesn’t start the interview off well.

    Getting both in to and out of the building are also important. I had one candidate call HR to say the building was locked and she couldn’t get in. It wasn’t locked. Same candidate also walked straight past the elevators and into the kitchen when I said goodbye, and just stood there looking confused for a bit. If you can’t figure out building navigation when you’re nervous, not a good sign.